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The Scottish Kiwi | Regional News

The Scottish Kiwi

Presented by: Wake Productions

Cavern Club, 1st Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Ryan McGhee and his warm-up guy Michael Macaulay were waiting outside the Cavern Club when I arrived. They warmly introduced themselves, didn’t freak out when I told them I was reviewing their show, and we had a lovely chat about COVID and how lucky they were to be able to perform. Both were friendly and down to earth, the best examples of what the Fringe Festival is about.

Their charming openness and willingness to connect continued in an hour of quality stand-up comedy that traversed continents, climates, and cultures. Macaulay, originally from Teeside and now Paraparaumu, opened the show with a dig at Jimmy Carr’s racism and a claim that he doesn’t feel English despite a Geordie accent untouched by decades overseas. Before introducing McGhee, he drew belly laughs from pubic hair, dating before the age of mobile apps, oral sex with a Bee Gee, and his dad’s cremation.

The most successful stand-up comedy often comes from people who are willing to display vulnerability about their own life experiences and laugh at themselves. This McGhee happily does as he talks about being a ‘born and fled’ Glaswegian who is fiercely patriotic about all things Scottish but would never want to live there again.

Starting with his staunch Catholic upbringing, through coming out as gay, to moving to Australia and being half of one of the first same-sex couples to be legally married – and divorced – there, he brings us on his colourful journey to New Zealand and genesis as the Scottish Kiwi.

In his All Blacks shirt and kilt, McGhee pokes gentle fun at, among other things, New Zealanders’ passion for winning at sport, anti-vaxxers and their inability to deal with ‘three wee pricks’, why bungee jumping is the Kiwi equivalent of haggis, and his drunken purchase of a scarily huge sex toy called Dennis the Destroyer. All of this is peppered with hilariously smutty gay jokes and a disarming ability to tell a great story, making a great hour’s entertainment.

Shift Your Paradigm  | Regional News

Shift Your Paradigm

Created by: David Bowers-Mason and Mitchell Botting

Directed by: Mitchell Botting

BATS Theatre, 1st Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

As I write this review it feels like the world is on fire. Certainly, Parliament grounds are literally on fire. But thinking back to the Fringe show I went to last night provides a wonderful escape, as did seeing Shift Your Paradigm. I truly forgot about all my troubles and cares – and our global ones too – for one hour thanks to this hilarious, twisty-turny, emotional rollercoaster of a production.

Eric (David Bowers-Mason) is the senior CEO of Do Be Us, a company that is not at all dubious and totally not a pyramid scheme. Under the all-seeing eye of the High Chair Man (Kevin Orlando), Eric has excelled in selling heaps of chairs (read: enlisting others to do it for him) and is now headed for a promotion. With the help of his junior-CEO-in-training Zoe (Isabella Murray), he just has to offload the last 25 of the latest collection before the ink on his new vague contract is dry.

Bowers-Mason is a gifted actor who rides the highs and lows of a desperate man with ease and panache. Murray acts as an anchor and counterpoint for Bowers-Mason’s performance so it doesn’t reach hysterical heights. And then we have Orlando, who reminds me instantly of The IT Crowd’s Matt Berry and might be just as funny. Appearing only onscreen but with excellent comic timing is Adam Herbert as the Fax Man, while Sara Douglas plays Eric’s sister Jessica with sensitivity that beautifully balances the action.

Shift Your Paradigm has high production values, with projection design (projector by Emii Wilson, graphics and filming by Mitchell Botting) greatly enhancing the experience – especially thanks to clever FaceTimes projected onto the screen. Coupled with cohesive, dramatic sound (Wilson) and lighting (Herbert), the show reaches multiple climactic points that put me in mind of watching a thriller on the big screen. Thrilling!

A huge bravo to all involved in the witty and raucous Shift Your Paradigm. Thanks for taking me out of my life for a hot minute!

Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes | Regional News

Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes

Written by: Lee Stanton-Barnett, Leonid Wilson, Brooke McCloy, and Lewis Thompson

Directed by: Lee Stanton-Barnett, Leonid Wilson, Brooke McCloy, and Lewis Thompson

Gryphon Theatre, 1st Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

The Garden of Eden: beautiful, serene, bountiful, and perfect. Until the humans arrived. How could God’s ‘most perfect’ creation be so imperfect? Well according to two tigers Big Stripes (Lewis Thompson) and Sharp Claws (Leonid Wilson), the ‘hewmans’ aren’t perfect at all. In their mind all beasts, no matter the legs or fur, are all created equal; but Adam (Lee Stanton-Barnett) and Eve (Brooke McCloy) seem to disagree.

Written, directed, and performed by ‘You be good. I love you’, Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes is a touching tale (or tail) about both the differences and similarities between human and beast, what defines a beast, and ultimately what defines a human. Providing a new take on the biblical story of Adam and Eve, Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes follows the rise, climax, and fall of Eden from paradise to what we inhabit now: Earth.

Specifically touching about the show is how similar the tigers and the humans behave. Though clearly different species, the tigers celebrate their differences to other animals but do not see themselves as superior. Adam and Eve however see themselves as special from their incipience. As Big Stripes wisely proposes: “Humans have a particular quality different from tigers; they want to be like God”. Eve and Adam both eat the apple in this rendition, but they do it to become special to God, to get closer to God.

Post-apple, the world changes: different species can no longer communicate, fear and hunger pervade the world, and life becomes all about survival. Humans and beasts seem to drift further apart, no longer living in harmony. Big Stripes ponders how despite our differences we share so many similarities and we all want the same things: a full belly and a place to live. Maybe our shared desires are what make us fight.

The tigers can’t understand why the humans feel such a strong need to be special. Perhaps only us humans can answer that.

Olga Dies Dreaming | Regional News

Olga Dies Dreaming

Written by: Xochitl Gonzalez

Fleet Publishing

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Xochitl Gonzalez’s debut novel Olga Dies Dreaming is not so much a look at the American Dream as it is an autopsy of it and the toll it can take on those chasing it.

The story focuses on Olga Acevedo and her brother Prieto, two siblings trying to navigate modern-day corporate America while finding their place in it. Years earlier, they were abandoned by their mother, Blanca, who ran off to become a revolutionary and save the world. Now she’s back, and her arrival shakes up what some might consider the siblings’ perfect lives.

I found the characters fascinating; they’re just wonderful to be around. Each one is so alive, and I was surprised by the depth of humanity that they all have. They have their triumphs and failures, and like all people, they make mistakes. This made them more relatable, and it was not long before I saw them as real human beings rather than characters on a page. 

I loved them all, but my favourite has to be Blanca. While she does not appear until much later on, she looms omnipresent over her children throughout the book. She is cold, cruel, and calculating to onlookers, but I loved her ambition and her tenacity to succeed whatever the cost (including being there for her kids). The prose is likewise a joy to read, and when I was finished I found myself wanting more, surely a great sign.

While it is true that nothing is perfect, I honestly could not find a single thing to critique about Olga Dies Dreaming. I suspect that many people will agree with me and love this book.

Put this on your list of must-haves. Gonzalez weaves a compelling story about the dangers of chasing that seemingly golden ideal: the American Dream. It is an exciting and thrilling read that I just could not put down. After this, Xochitl Gonzalez is an author I will be looking out for in the future.

The Heretic | Regional News

The Heretic

Written by: Liam McIlvanney


Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

What a cracking book! I really enjoyed The Heretic by Liam McIlvanney, who has written seven books and lives in New Zealand. McIlvanney is originally from Scotland and sets his books there. This one is set in Glasgow so there is some Scottish lingo to get to grips with. I lived in Edinburgh for two years so learned what this all meant:

Ned = hooligan/petty crim/lout/young boy
Didnae = didn’t, wasnae = wasn’t etc.
Deid = dead
Schemes = council housing
Hoor = sex worker
Weans = children
Hen = term of affection for a young woman/girl
Breeks = breeches

Warning: the C word is used a lot, as it would be. Google other expressions you don’t understand.

Set over 16 days in 1975, this story is the follow-up to The Quaker, with Detective Inspector Duncan McCormack leading the investigation. McCormack is gay, which is something that the local Police aren’t ready for so his partner lives separately to him and is referred to as his cousin. It was 1975 and boy times have changed. McCormack is also not a team player but in charge of the investigation, natch (= naturally). There are egos, bent coppers, dead coppers, racist and sexist coppers – it’s all go.

The prologue is distressing and the narrative unfolds from there with lots of different storylines and characters to keep on top of. The Heretic is gritty, believable, well-written, and kept me wanting more.

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy III | Regional News

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy III

Paper Road Press

Edited by Marie Hodgkinson

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I was thoroughly impressed, entertained, and engaged by this collection. These authors are not only thought-provoking and self-reflective, but entertaining and wildly talented storytellers. Each piece is as intelligent and self-aware as it is poignant and cogitative. Both the fantasy and science fiction short stories push the boundaries of reality in order to create empathetic and compassionate literature that not only amuses but also forces the reader to evaluate their own choices, self, and reality.

Whether two pages or 10, direct or allegorical, each writing pushes the reader as part of a collective human race to think beyond ourselves and re-evaluate our position in the world at large, the world’s future, and our relation to other humans, other beings, and most urgently our relation to our planet. No matter the context each story is, in effect, both urgent and earnest in its appeal. The Waterfall by Renee Liang tackles politics, corruption, and bureaucracy during a near future environmental disaster where preserving political image through gaslighting is still prioritised over medical emergency. Both topical and demanding political accountability. Octavia Cade’s Otto Hahn Speaks to the Dead questions morality and the morality of violence versus self-violence during WWII. Florentina by Paul Veart comments on how clinically, animalistically, and uncompassionately humanity treats difference, while simultaneously reflecting on how this fear of difference forces often barbaric reactions to something like the AIDS epidemic or even our current COVID-19 pandemic. By painting pictures of post-apocalyptic futures, The Double-Cab Club by Tim Jones and The Turbine at the End of The World by James Rowland urge all of us to seriously acknowledge our imminent and impending environmental disaster.

Since reading this collection there are many stories that have crossed my mind daily but none as much as Casey Lucas’ For Want of Human Parts, which dissects, reconstructs, and assesses our own humanness and humaneness in the face of humanity itself.

The collection is pointed social commentary that forces us to look not only at ourselves as a society and human race, but also introspectively as individuals.

Beats of the Pa 'u | Regional News

Beats of the Pa 'u

Written by: Maria Samuela

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

Beats of the Pa‘u is a collection of stories that pulse with the experiences of a myriad of characters living through the 50s to modern day New Zealand.

First and second generation Cook Island New Zealanders faced particular challenges on coming here – and not only in their quest for work. In The Promotion, Kura, a long-lost son, journeys to New Zealand to start a new life with an estranged father. His poignant attempts to find employment are punctuated by a forced attendance at church, his first taste of a good ol’ NZ pie, awkward encounters with family members, and clandestine visits to pubs. Similar situations were faced by the formerly estranged father, and these experiences alternate with, and enrich, the narrative. They also provide a moving explanation of the story’s title.

Especially delightful is Love Rules for Island Boys, a wry poke at how to get and keep the love interest of a girl. “If she’s an island girl, find out who her brothers are,” is telling. As is the order in which to feed her the chicken you’ve cooked. “If she’s a white girl, find out who her father is,” signals a whole other ball game. The observations here are justifiably sharper, and act as salutary pointers for the astute reader.

The last story, eponymously titled Beats of the Pa‘u, centres on a mother’s concern for her daughter – a theme that incidentally pervades the whole collection. It opens with another pervading theme – religion – or at least churchgoing. We can picture Father O’Shea leading Raro Mass. Stand, sit, kneel, pray is the mantra here – contrasting sometimes amusingly, sometimes startlingly, with the behaviour of the congregation once freed from Father O’Shea’s strictures! Katerina and Luana are young women with typical urges and preoccupations – and these must be experienced in a cultural and social context different from their own.

Beats of the Pa‘u is a collection richly dipped in nostalgic reflection – served with a sprinkling of irony, warmed coconut cream, and taro.

Impossible | Regional News


Written by: Sarah Lotz


Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

Well that was fun! I loved the title: Impossible – this isn’t a love story, this is f***king impossible. If the F bomb is dropped in the title, I know I’m going to read something written by a like-minded human being. I loved this line: “I know I’m getting old because I’ve started appreciating plants. And not just the type you smoke.”

The first chapter is great with a case of mistaken identity in an email trail between a man and woman that grows into something else. I’ve been there, intercepted texts meant for someone else. A nice guy trying to buy his girl a Kirks voucher that he thought she didn’t want. I said I’ll have it. I miss Kirks… The internet does bring out the crazy in everyone, let’s face it. There are two main characters and the chapters are split evenly between his and her stories. Between those chapters are their exchanges of email banter that are fun to read and usually humorous.

Part three gets a bit weird and I get lost. But then I get it. Alternative universes and all that. The two main characters live in different countries and eras. Stick with it. There are weirdos who belong to a society, a nasty boarding house, mad drunk husbands, affairs, smelly dogs, and attempted suicides that feature throughout the storyline. The ending was kind of predictable but not a lot is predictable in this book.

The author, Sarah Lotz, has written 18 books, several under non de plumes. A Girl Walks into a Bar is another fab book title that I’d be keen to read. I enjoyed Impossible and might read more from Sarah Lotz. It is chick-lit but has something for everyone I reckon. I read it over the long weekend and it was a nice distraction from the reality of going to the Omicron red traffic light system. We all need good books to read during COVID and this one provides light relief and the ‘what if it was real?’ factor.

A Game Of Two Halves | Regional News

A Game Of Two Halves

Victoria University Press

Edited by Fergus Barrowman

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Co-founded and published by Fergus Barrowman, Sport magazine ran from 1988 to 2019. It was a literary magazine that included a mix of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, and much more.

While it may not be around anymore, A Game of Two Halves was put together as a celebration of the best it had to offer – a highlight reel, if you will. Like the back of the book says, it looks back on 15 issues and presents us with some of its best work, starting in 2005 through to 2019.

If you are a writing buff, you will recognise some of the names in this book. For me, one of the standouts was the poet and short story writer Bill Manhire. While I’m not always a fan of the poetic verse, his words almost always had me smiling and, in a lot of cases re-reading them to make sure I understood the ideas he was trying to convey. Starting with The Eye of the Blackbird and The School Bus.

In many ways, this title has a lot in common with the latest book I reviewed, a short story collection called Middle Distance. You might remember that I said some readers might be put off by finding stories they didn’t like before finding ones they did. But in the case of A Game of Two Halves, that shouldn’t be a problem, especially with the content of 100 writers here. It’s almost ironic that the sheer volume available could be seen as a negative.

Its size might put off younger readers or those just getting into reading, but each story is reasonably easy to read, so once they start, it should be easy enough to keep going until the end.

This is the perfect addition to anyone’s library, and Fergus Barrowman should be proud to have this as a legacy to Sport magazine. It shows us just how much literary talent has been on display in this country.